#12: Solving the Summertime Boredom Dilemma

Dear Ellie,

My children are out of school for the summer and it’s only been a week, but I am ready to scream. What are some practical ways that I can save my sanity while also helping my kids enjoy their summer break? We are a one-income family, so I don’t have a lot of money to spend on extra trips or expensive entertainment outside of our regular budget planning. I know you have fun with your kids without spending a lot of money, so I thought I’d ask for your advice. Thank you!

Save My Summertime Sanity


Dear Save My Summertime Sanity,

Isn’t it frustrating? If your kids are anything like mine, they can’t WAIT to get out of school for the summer and yet, two days into the summer break I hear them complaining about being bored and having nothing to do.

When my children tell me they’re bored, my immediate response is, “Oh, good! This morning, I’ve been cleaning the house and I would love your help!” with a big ole smile on my face. And then I promptly write out a few chores they can work on to save them from boredom. My children get busy, I don’t have to hear the complaining anymore and they learn not to come to me with the phrase, “I’m bored” anymore that summer ’cause Mama ain’t got time.

Sure, family outings during the summertime are fun, but they usually can’t happen every day. And I don’t know about you, but I refuse to be the mother with an itinerary of all the activities I’m going to engage in with my child from wakey-wakey to night-night.

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Don’t get me wrong. I love spending time with my children. And they know that. But I think one of the biggest problems facing our youth today is their lack of two particular life skills: self-sufficiency and time management.

Helping our children navigate unstructured time is an important part of the parenting job.

Helping our children navigate unstructured time is an important part of the parenting job. If we are consistently creating itineraries and planning out their every minute, kids will not build important life skills they will need to live productive lives as adults.

As a middle school teacher, self-sufficiency and time management are two of the biggest deficits I see in my students, and I think one reason they present so often in the classroom is because these students’ well-meaning parents have not intentionally taught their children how to live without every single second being planned to their satisfaction.

If you want to save your sanity this summer, mama, it’s going to require something a little bit deeper than planning cheap or free activities to do with your kids. But the amazing thing about going a bit deeper is that you’re getting to the root of the issue instead of smacking on a band-aid that will be falling off in a matter of minutes – especially in this summertime humidity!

Here are three things I do to tackle the summertime boredom problem and help my children build significant skills that will carry them well into adulthood:

Work from a place of mutual understanding

water-863053_1920Your kids need to know that your number one job in life is not to make them happy or keep them entertained. My mother did a great job of instilling this important value in me and my sisters when we were growing up. Yes, she loved me. Yes, she provided for me. Yes, she wanted me to have a happy life. But she was not the one in charge of my happiness and fun. I was. Because we all knew and understood this, I was not looking to my mother to lead the circus of summertime fun.

Help your child think mindfully about his or her life

boy-2074662_1920If I really was having a tough time coming up with something to do for free time in the summer, my mom helped me brainstorm. Together, we’d make a list of all the things I enjoyed that I could do at home right then without much parental assistance. Reading books, making crafts, playing outside, playing pretend with my sisters and on and on. I kept the list in my bedroom, so that when I got bored, I could run through my options and find something to do. And if none of those things seemed appealing, then I usually had the option to join my mother in whatever she was doing in the yard or the home. By walking your child through this process, you are teaching them how to think mindfully about themselves and their interests. This is something that will help them as they grow into adults.

Hold your child accountable

Lay out consequences for complaining about boredom and stick to them. The chores response is an example of that. It’s a natural consequence and one that works! Every time our children bump up against expectations of behavior, it’s an opportunity to speak to their hearts and help them understand how to live within boundaries. And as Brene Brown teaches us, boundaries are a healthy part of life. They teach us how to respect and take care of ourselves and others. And ultimately, they set us free to live and love open-heartedly.
sunset-1097898_1920Summertime Sanity, I know that being a parent is the toughest thing there is. I also know that it’s one of the most beautiful things there is. And where you sit right now, with this heavy weight on your chest about providing a fun, engaging childhood for your children, is a familiar place for all parents out there who give a damn. What I’m saying is, you’re in good company and you’re not alone.

I hope you’ll lean into this season with your children and help them develop some important skills and qualities while also running through sprinklers and eating freezer pops on the patio in the backyard. Balance is important, but it starts with a firm foundation.

Truly yours,

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